The Last Nail in the V-Rod’s Coffin and Harassment Allegations at Harley-Davidson
Friday May 24th was the last day of production at the Harley-Davidson’s factory in Kansas City, Missouri. Closure was announced earlier in the year but the shutdown process began as early as August of 2018. The factory was built in the late 1990’s at a cost of approximately $85 million dollars. At the time, thirty other communities were competing to have Harley-Davidson build in their towns, offering tens of millions in state tax abatement and other incentives. Twenty two years later, it’s been shut down, and about 800 employees are out of jobs.
Harley’s media statement:
“The Kansas City plant has been assembling Harley-Davidson motorcycles since 1997, and our employees will leave a great legacy of safety, quality, collaboration and manufacturing leadership. We are grateful to them and the Kansas City community for their many years of support and their service to our dealers and our riders.”
What bikes are effected and where will they go?
The plan is for production from the Kansas City factory to be shifted to the company’s York, Pennsylvania factory. This should create 450 new jobs in Pennsylvania where Harley-Davidson is investing $150,000,000 to expand their state-of-the-art plant. The expanded York plant will take over production of the Sportster, Dyna, and Street family of motorcycles previously made in Kansas City.
How does the V-Rod play into this?
The original first generation V-Rod was everything Harley-Davidson wants to offer customers today, but it came eighteen years too soon. By the time the V-Rod entered it’s final production generation it was too heavy, fat, and expensive for a new generation of riders to get into it. There was always hope, especially among the V-Rod fanbase on 1130cc, that the V-Rod would be brought back as the bastion of Harley-Davidson’s performance potential. An 1130cc (and later 1250cc) motor that put their big twins to shame.
Harley enthusiasts had hopes that as long as the plant stayed open, there would always be an opportunity to bring the V-Rod back to production, once the market was once again ready for it. While we have seen other companies bring back models from their past (think Suzuki bringing back the Katana thirteen years after it was last produced), the Kansas City plant officially shutting down may be the last nail in the V-Rod’s coffin. That’s a real shame, because it was arguably the greatest bike Harley-Davidson has ever produced, and undoubtedly the most future-forward one.
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So why did the Kansas City factory close?
When Harley-Davidson first made the announcement last year, they blamed the need to close the plant on President Trump‘s trade policies and soft sales. A tariff increase on motorcycles that Harley-Davidson sold in the European Union meant that Harley’s motorcycles would cost over $2,000 more per motorcycle in Europe, on every motorcycle made in America and sold in the Europe. This created a need to move production overseas.
Random motorcycle history blurb: Companies building factories in Europe to get around tariffs and trade barriers is nothing new. One of the most successful examples in motorcycling was the Honda Hornet a.k.a. the Honda 599. In the early-2000s, the Honda 599 was the hottest selling street bike in Europe. It was a European-styled and European-built street bike, with Japanese performance and reliability. Honda was selling so many of these things that they were making them in Italy so they could keep the price down for European riders.
Harley will be opening more plants outside of the United States (not just in Europe, but also in Thailand and possibly Malaysia) to sell to foreign markets. According to Harley-Davidson, motorcycles made overseas would be for overseas sales only, and any Harley-Davidson sold in America would still be made in America. Still, the decision has created a rift not only between Harley and their employees, but also between Harley and many other Americans.
So what’s happening to the Kansas City plant?
The plant has grown over the years from 400,000 initially to over 500,000 square feet. It sits on a 314 acre lot that you can buy for only $26,500,000. Sure, that’s a lot of money, but when you take into account the $85,000,000 to build the facility, and the fact that the deal includes a paint booth system that cost $30,000,000 alone, it’s a steal of deal. Not to mention you have 600 machinists and other skilled workers nearby just waiting to get to work… Any billionaires out there want to bring back the V-Rod? Send me an email and let’s get to work!
So what about those out-of-work employees, anyway?
*sigh* That’s a loaded question. Harley made it clear to them that the plant would be closed back in January, so they’ve had a few months to try to figure out their next move. The Motor Company has been providing support to help employees transition to new work, which includes a workforce development center that has operated at the plant for the past year, hosting job fairs with other local employers and offering free workshops for employees to develop new skills to help them be more sought after by other employers. If this is true, that’s a classy move on the Motor Company’s part and helps to make the most of an unfortunate situation.
But it isn’t all classy…
Nope. Not at all. Minority workers at the Kansas City plant say they’ve been the victims of racism and harassment for years. There’s been allegations of swastikas and nooses found all over the plant. Harley-Davidson says that they’ve investigated any and all reported claims, but the media reports that harassment only became worse as the closing of the plant drew nearer. There’s no denying that the situation sucks, but come on Kansas City, be better than that.
The Kansas City Harley-Davidson plant closing should allow for the motor company to “cut the fat” and focus on areas of opportunity that will hopefully keep the Motor Company alive for another hundred years. Unfortunately, this is bad news for V-Rod aficionados, and terrible news for the local economy. The 450 new jobs being created in Pennsylvania are only about 56% of the jobs lost in Missouri. Harley-Davidson is operating from an “Evolve or Die” mindset, so the company looks a lot different than it’s former self. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
UPDATE 1: Sales flyer available
If you’d like a more “inside-look” in what a Harley-Davidson plant looks like inside, I found a copy of the sales PDF about the property for sale. You can download it here: Harley Kansas Plant (10mb – PDF).
UPDATE 2: Continued Demand
The year since this article was published has seen a lot of change in the world. One interesting thing to note was that during Q1 of 2020, demand for Harley-Davidson stayed miles ahead of other motorcycle brands based on search volume.